How to Clean a Wooden Cutting Board Quickly and Easily
Bacteria, begone! Once you learn how to clean a wooden cutting board and sanitize it correctly, you can slice and dice without worry.
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It’s easy to overlook the importance of learning how to clean a wooden cutting board properly. Instead, you might have more concerns about how to clean your air fryer, given this trendy device is more likely to get covered in unsightly and smelly grease. Or you might want to know how to clean a toaster to prevent a buildup of crumbs from causing a fire risk.
But when prioritizing your kitchen cleaning schedule, proper cutting board hygiene should be high on the list. Studies show homeowners often don’t clean these essential kitchen tools properly, and they can be top spots for germs to hide in your home. Plus, the wrong cleaning techniques lessen your wooden board’s life span, leading to warping and staining.
To avoid passing on foodborne illnesses to your guests when they tuck into your chic charcuterie, learn how to clean your kitchen cutting board scrupulously and safely with these simple and speedy tips. And handily, this cleaning guide doesn’t just apply to wooden cutting boards. “Some other board materials that are nonporous, including acrylic, plastic or glass, can be cleaned this way as well, or they can be washed in the dishwasher,” says Jessica Ek, senior director of digital communications at the American Cleaning Institute.
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Wooden cutting boards vs. plastic cutting boards
When deciding between a plastic and wooden cutting board, the primary focus tends to be on which is more hygienic.
Nonporous plastic might seem more sanitary, as harmful bacteria are less likely to penetrate its surface than wood. But once a plastic cutting board develops cutting scars, cleaning out the germs from those deep grooves can be tricky.
While some wooden cutting boards contain triclosan, which has antibacterial properties, these don’t make a big difference in spreading bacteria. The wood absorbs the nasty bugs deep below the surface. But the trapped bugs eventually die off once the cleaned board fully dries out.
Study results vary, but the key advice from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service is that both plastic and wooden cutting boards are safe, provided you properly clean and sanitize them and replace them when there is significant damage.
So then it’s a case of deciding what else matters to you. Plastic boards can go in the dishwasher and are usually less expensive, but they aren’t heat resistant or as aesthetically pleasing, and they can blunt your knives faster than wooden boards.
Whichever material you opt for, the safest approach is to use at least two color-coded cutting boards to minimize cross-contamination—one for raw meat, which is more likely to carry foodborne illnesses, and another for ready-to-eat things like fruit, vegetables and bread.
How to clean a wooden cutting board
Larisa Gherghe/Getty Images
When learning how to clean a wooden cutting board like a professional chef, the key is to scrub, not soak, after every use and ensure it dries out properly. You don’t need any harsh chemicals or convoluted techniques.
Ready to get started? Here’s how to clean a wood cutting board in a way that keeps warping and worrying bacteria at bay.
1. Remove stuck-on food
Rinse the board with hot water to loosen any stuck-on particles. Use a metal spatula to scrape off stubborn food gently. If you’re still having problems, applying a paste made of baking soda and water can help loosen stubborn food.
2. Scrub the board
Ek suggests the best way to clean a wood cutting board is to “wash with hot, soapy water after each use.” Any mild dish soap or a commercial wooden cutting board cleaner should do the trick. Dawn Powerwash Dish Spray gets good reviews for a reason and is a go-to for many homeowners.
Use a sponge or dishcloth to apply it and scrub both sides of the board. Bacteria can still gather on the unused side, and consistent moisture prevents the warping that comes from uneven drying.
3. Rinse and dry the board
“Rinse with clean water and air- or pat dry with clean paper towels,” Ek says. Stand your wooden cutting board upright on a rack in a position that promotes speedy air-drying before crowding it into a cupboard. Steer clear of drying with your cloth kitchen towel, as they can cause food poisoning by trapping bacteria and transferring the germs to other dishes you’re drying. (Yuck!)
4. Clean your sink
After cleaning a cutting board, especially one you’re using for raw meat prep, don’t forget to sanitize your sink. Learning how to clean a kitchen sink properly is another top task—they, too, are havens for harmful bacteria.
Pro tip: Don’t soak your board
Soaking your wooden cutting board in water is a major no-no. These porous blocks can swell, warp and crack when saturated. That also means your wooden board is something you should never put in the dishwasher.
How to sanitize a wooden cutting board
Regularly sterilizing wooden cutting boards helps prevent harmful bacteria buildup and cross-contamination. Ek recommends sanitizing the board after cleaning whenever you cut and prepare raw meat or fish.
- Unscented chlorine bleach
- Paper towels
1. Make a bleach solution
The most effective sanitizer and mold remover is unscented bleach. While using bleach on a porous food-prep item might sound scary, you aren’t using it neat. “Use a solution of one tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water,” Ek says. This aligns with the USDA’s recommendations for how to sanitize a cutting board.
2. Cover the cutting board surface in the solution
Ek recommends flooding the board’s surface with the bleach solution before letting it sit for a few minutes. It’ll go to work, killing the remaining germs on the surface for maximum sanitation.
3. Rinse and dry the cutting board
Rinse the board thoroughly with hot water before letting it air-dry in a well-ventilated space or patting it dry with clean paper towels.
Pro tip: Don’t leave the solution on for too long
While letting the solution work its magic for a few minutes is important to kill off lingering bacteria, don’t leave it for hours while catching up on time-consuming kitchen-cleaning tasks, like learning how to clean your oven. Allowing it to sit for too long increases the chance you’ll discolor your wooden cutting board.
How to remove stains from a wooden cutting board
If you’ve been chopping up potent garlic, you know there’s nothing worse than a clove’s lingering smell infusing fresh fruit the next time you use your wooden cutting board. It’s even worse if a chopped chili pepper leaves red marks on the wood. Fortunately, removing stains and odors from your board is easy to accomplish with a couple of everyday kitchen items.
- Kosher salt
- A fresh lemon
- Metal kitchen spatula
- Distilled white vinegar
- Paper towels
- A potato (optional)
1. Spread a salt-and-lemon paste over the board
Cleaning with lemons is effective, inexpensive and a great way to avoid harsh chemicals. Sprinkle a generous layer of kosher salt across your cutting board’s surface. Squeeze the juice of a lemon over the salt before rubbing the fleshy side of the lemon over the mixture to create a paste. If your lemon is a bit dry, add a few drops of water to get a thick consistency.
2. Scrape off the dry paste
Let the paste sit and do its work. Once it’s dry, scrape it off with a spatula.
3. Try a vinegar solution for lingering stains and odors
There are many household uses for vinegar; cleaning a cutting board is just one. If you don’t have any lemons—or if you tried the salt-and-lemon trick but the stubborn stains or smells linger—break out the vinegar. Spray the cutting board surface with a white vinegar and water mix (a ratio of one-quarter vinegar to three-quarters water works). Let it sit for a few minutes to combat the persistent stink.
4. Rinse and dry the board
Thoroughly rinse the board with warm water before air-drying it in a well-ventilated space. You can pat it dry with paper towels first to get the worst of the water off.
Pro tip: Use a potato to combat garlic odors
“To remove [the] garlic smell specifically, just rubbing the board with a cut potato can work wonders because of an enzyme found in potatoes and apples,” Ek says. Any common potato variety should do the trick.
Dealing with a moldy wooden cutting board
You might come across advice on how to clean a wooden cutting board that has started to mold, but it’s not a straightforward task. While a bleach solution is a common mold-removal option on nonporous surfaces, it isn’t the best remedy for porous wood that you use for food preparation. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, even if you remove surface particles, mold spores can fill the crevices deep down in porous materials.
This makes mold difficult or impossible to remove completely. Sanding down the board is an option, but there’s no guarantee a professional woodworker would sand far enough down to reach all spores within the wood grain.
What’s a home chef to do? If you see patches of black appearing, the safest option is to dispose of the board, then keep your new board dry and in a well-ventilated space to prevent mold growth.
The best wooden cutting board cleaners
How to preserve a wooden cutting board
It’s not enough to know how to clean a wooden cutting board; you need to understand how to keep it in good condition. Periodically oiling your wooden cutting board can extend its lifespan and help prevent excess moisture and nasty germs from getting into the board fibers. Follow the tips below to create a barrier for your board.
- Apply a thin coat of food-grade mineral oil to the surfaces and sides of your dry and clean wooden cutting board. Avoid animal-based fats or olive oil, which can spoil and encourage odors and bacteria buildup. (You can, however, use olive oil after cleaning your countertops to give dull granite a nice shine.)
- A small paintbrush or pastry brush helps distribute the oil evenly.
- Use a paper towel to buff the oil into the board’s surface in circular motions.
- Let the oil soak in for at least a few hours before chopping on the board again.
- Add another layer of oil if the board still looks dry.
- Repeat the process at least once a month or when the wood looks dry and lightens in color.
- Jessica Ek, senior director of digital communications at the American Cleaning Institute
- International Journal of Food Microbiology: “Assessment of the Antibacterial Activity of a Triclosan-Containing Cutting Board”
- Environmental Protection Agency: “A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home”
- USDA: “Cutting Boards”